Canada: How Alberta weed stores are gearing up for the first post-legalization holiday

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Western Canada is due for a very green Christmas this year.

Canadians are now able to (legally) stuff stockings and line the bottoms of Christmas trees with gifts of weed. The recreational cannabis industry in Canada is barely two months old, but shoppers and cannabis store owners alike are gearing up for the holiday rush — just like any other retail business.

“It’ll be no different than someone going to the liquor store and grabbing a bottle of wine,” said Sunni Lee, a shopper outside Four20 Premium Market’s store in southwest Calgary. “The difference is my family — we smoke, we don’t drink.”

In an online survey of 1,500 Canadians who use Lift & Co., a cannabis review and industry website, 10 per cent said they’d consider giving their friends or family cannabis for Christmas. But Albertans and Manitobans were the highest on that list, at 12 per cent. Lift & Co. CEO Matei Olaru said this might be due to both provinces’ cannabis regimes, which leave brick-and-mortar sales in the hands of private businesses.

As the holidays approach, cannabis stores across Alberta are preparing for the customary holiday rush. Angus Taylor, founder of NewLeaf Cannabis, said the chain’s floor staff have noticed plenty of their customers talking about buying weed or accessories for Christmas.

“We’ve even heard of people thinking of giving gifts for their parents — of cannabis — and thinking that they never would have done it a year ago,” he said. “But, under the circumstances, it’s something they can have fun with.”

Despite the green holiday rush, some Albertans are wary of giving weed for the holidays, especially if they’re going to a work-related Secret Santa party or giving to their family members. Eugene Starlight, another shopper at Four20, wasn’t sure if the laws around home-growing weed and giving it to friends also applied to giving store-bought weed as gifts.

“I’m pretty sure some of the laws would be the same,” he said. “So, I don’t think you can buy it for another person.”

Amber Craig, vice-president of marketing for Four20 Premium Market, expects their chain to be very busy during holiday season.
Amber Craig, vice-president of marketing for Four20 Premium Market, believes their chain has seen a bit of an increase in business since the start of December.

“We’re anticipating Christmas Eve to be very busy,” she said.

Four20’s selling a number of smaller accessories that could make for good stocking stuffers: rolling papers, lighters, and grinders. But they’re also promoting gift cards, which Craig said could be a good option for gift-givers tasked with shopping for a stoner, but who might not understand exactly what to get them.

“We’ve always had gift cards, but we just didn’t really talk about them very often,” she said. “We were very, very busy after legalization.”

And Edmonton-based Fire & Flower said they’ve seen an increase in business since the start of December. Chris McAulay-Gilbart, director of retail operations, said staff are seeing plenty of folks dropping into their stores — and not just holiday shoppers.

What the holiday rush will look like isn’t quite clear yet. Taylor couldn’t say whether NewLeaf Cannabis has seen a spike in sales due to the holidays, but pointed out that they don’t have that much data to compare it to. The legal recreational cannabis industry is barely a dozen weeks old.

“But it will come,” Taylor said.

It’s also unclear whether Alberta is seeing a lot of out-of-province visitors looking for easy access to weed. Saskatchewan has a handful of cannabis stores, while British Columbia just has one legal location in Kamloops (although there are still plenty of illicit storefronts that appear quite legitimate). Anyone looking to fly in to Alberta for bud can bring their purchases with them, so long as they’re only carrying 30 grams or less in an airtight container, and as long they’re flying domestic.

McAulay-Gilbart said it isn’t clear what the holiday rush could look like for Fire & Flower. But they’ll be ready.

Jon Wagner shows off his purchases during the Christmas season on December 19, 2018 in Calgary.
Jon Wagner shows off his purchases during the Christmas season on December 19, 2018 in Calgary.  

“We’re not sure what we can expect at this time,” he said. “But we’re well-equipped for whatever arrives at our door here at Fire & Flower.”

Jon Wagner, another shopper, said he might consider buying weed for Christmas. He pointed out that it might not even make a bad Secret Santa gift, depending on the size of the package. Plenty of workplaces give out beer and wine for the holidays and, with legalization, how is weed any different?

“I think I would,” he said. “Maybe not for my mom.”

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